a different approach

In Albany, Fariña criticizes Cuomo’s plan for teacher evaluations

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Raymond Orlando, the city education department's chief financial officer, testifies with Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Cuomo's budget in Albany on Tuesday.

Is a teacher coming to school every day? Is she attending professional development? Is she sharing her lessons with other teachers?

If the state’s teacher’s evaluation system is going to change, Chancellor Carmen Fariña told lawmakers in Albany on Tuesday, it should be to account for more of those factors, not to increase the role of state test scores.

“There’s so many other things,” Fariña said. “I was a teacher for more than 20 years and if I was only measured in test scores, that would only have been a little bit of my work.”

Fariña’s remarks, her most extensive comments yet on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plans to overhaul the state’s teacher-evaluation system, came after testifying about Gov. Cuomo’s budget proposal. His teacher-evaluation plan would increase the role of state test scores, bring in outside experts to observe teachers, and diminish the role of a principal’s observation in exchange for increasing overall education spending.

“I absolutely believe that holding teachers accountable only on test scores and outside evaluators is not a good idea,” Fariña said in response to questions about Cuomo’s plan.

First passed in 2010, the state’s evaluation law was meant to create a system that rates teachers on a mix of student learning measures and principal observations. But two years after it was first implemented, nearly every teacher has been rated in the top two categories, though the ratings earned by city teachers were slightly more evenly distributed. Cuomo wants to change it to make it more difficult for teachers to earn top ratings, so struggling teachers can be identified and, in some cases, be fired.

New York City implemented its own plan before Fariña took over, but she negotiated some changes to the city’s evaluation system with the teachers union. The new contract reduced the number of skills that principals must assess and agreed to protect teachers who earned low ratings based on test scores.

“I think that what we’ve got in New York City, which is unique to New York City, should be a model for the rest of the country,” Fariña said.

But Fariña also offered a much broader idea of her vision for measuring a teacher’s performance. She suggested a better way to evaluate teachers might be through the framework that the city uses to evaluate schools, looking at elements such as instruction, collaboration, leadership, and ties with the community.

“Are they doing Common Core the way that it’s meant to be? Do they collaborate?” Fariña said.

Fariña noted that her positions on evaluation are in line with the national mood, as parents and officials in more states question the widespread emphasis on using standardized tests to assess schools, teachers, and students. But New York’s debate over evaluations is focused on the best way to measure student learning, making some what Fariña would want measured, such as attendance and collaboration, less likely to gain traction.

Other city’s education officials had more specific recommendations for improving teacher evaluations. Sharon Contreras, superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, said she backed Cuomo’s desire to eliminate local tests to evaluate teachers, but proposed that state test scores account for 30 percent of the overall rating. (Cuomo wants them to account for 50 percent.)

And while the teachers union has been the most outspoken critic of Cuomo’s plans for evaluations, Republicans in the Assembly who are not typical union allies also expressed their unease with giving the state more power over a teacher’s evaluation. Long Island Assembly Member Ed Ra, who has sponsored legislation opposing the Common Core standards, said he agreed 100 percent with city teachers union head Michael Mulgrew’s concerns.

“The more rigid we get, the more difficult” it becomes to evaluate teachers of students with special needs, Ra said.

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.